For companies looking to optimize their cybersecurity and ward off cybercrime threats, there is no more essential position to consider than that of the chief information security officer, also known as the CISO. However, as businesses gradually come to outsource more of their information technology (IT) and functionalities to service providers, virtual CISO consulting services, also known as vCISO, have become a compelling option. This article will break down everything you need to know about vCISO.
Basics of Virtual CISO Consulting Services
Given the importance of the CISO, it might be easy to assume that a virtual, on-demand option is less effective than a full-time executive. But a vCISO can be just as beneficial (or even more beneficial) to your company’s cybersecurity. Understanding the basics of what a vCISO can do for your company means understanding its impacts on your safety.
To that end, the following sections break down vCISOs’ most significant impacts into three main areas:
- Design and initial implementation of cybersecurity architecture
- Day to day oversight, operation, and optimization of systems
- Short- and long-term ROI in the form of loss prevention
But first, let’s take a quick look at the most basic definition of all: what exactly is a virtual CISO, and what do vCISO consulting services comprise compared to a traditional CISO?
What Exactly is a Virtual CISO?
To understand what a vCISO does, understanding the role of a traditional CISO is critical. Defined by the SANS Institute as a “mix” between technology and business roles in 2003, the function of the CISO has expanded over the past two decades to comprise complete oversight of all IT security in a company, often reporting directly to the CEO.
The main requirements for a traditional, internal CISO break down as follows:
- Creation and implementation of cybersecurity architecture
- Coordination of regulatory compliance and certification
- Operation of ongoing, real-time cybersecurity operations
- Management of user identities and access to information
- Company-wide monitoring and mitigation of vulnerabilities
- In-depth and cutting-edge analysis of cybersecurity risks
Virtual CISO services comprise all the same functions; they’re just executed remotely. But a virtual CISO is not a full-time employee. Instead, it’s an individual or team contracted on a full-time or on-demand basis, typically offering all of the same safeguards at a fraction of the cost.
VCISO Cybersecurity Architecture Implementation
The planning, design, and implementation of your cybersecurity architecture are fundamental to your overall security. Oversight of these functions is a crucial element of a traditional, internal CISO’s role. The same thing holds true for a vCISO.
A virtual CISO can optimize the construction of your company’s:
- Perimeter and endpoint security for all physical and virtual assets related to IT
- Network architecture, including all wireless and other network infrastructure
- Cloud architecture, extending security beyond the office into anywhere data is accessed
- Application management, securing applications developed and used by the company
- Mobile infrastructure, protecting against the various threats posed by smart devices
Your vCISO partner assists from afar, coordinating and mobilizing all requisite stakeholders to build out the safeguards needed. Then, once they’re in place, the vCISO will also oversee the ongoing maintenance of your security systems, optimizing and upgrading as required.
A vCISO’s Impact on Governance and Compliance
Ensuring that the safeguards you install meets the requirements of any regulatory frameworks your company needs to follow is a critical element of architecture implementation and optimization. Enter vCISO-backed compliance advisory services.
Depending on the industries your company works within, you may need to follow multiple regulatory codes, including but not limited to:
- HIPAA – The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects clients’ medical and financial data and applies to most healthcare and adjacent businesses.
- PCI-DSS – The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard protects clients’ credit card information, and it applies to many companies that process credit card payments.
- NERC CIP – The North American Reliability Corporation’s Critical Infrastructure Protection applies to companies in or adjacent to the country’s bulk power system.
- DFARS, etc. – Requirements detailed in the Defense Acquisition Regulations System apply to companies seeking lucrative contracts with the US Department of Defense.
CISOs are often familiar with one framework and can struggle mapping controls between them; vCISOs are used to working within multiple frameworks, simplifying compliance across them.
The Role of vCISO in Cybersecurity Operations
Just like with a conventional CISO, your virtual CISO is involved in the initial creation of cyberdefense systems and is in charge of all daily operations. A major responsibility of the vCISO is ongoing patch management, or continuous monitoring, reporting on, analyzing, and striving to correct your controls over the long term.
In many cases, patch management and reporting relate specifically to comply with the frameworks named above. It also provides optimal visibility over your systems and controls, regardless of compliance or certification requirements. Any gaps identified in your cybersecurity systems need to be addressed immediately, with proactive work done to prevent data loss associated with them and retroactive work to identify and mitigate missed breaches.
Highlight: vCISO Oversight on Access Control
Another particular cybersecurity area that can be entrusted to a vCISO with confidence is the fundamental practice of identity and access management. Restricting sensitive data to only authorized users, authenticated via login credentials, is far from the only consideration.
A robust, vCISO-backed ID and access control program needs to include:
- Training and awareness concerning best practices for strong passwords
- Required changes of access credentials at regular, frequent intervals
- Multi-factor authentication using credentials beyond passwords
- Monitoring and controlling irregular or unauthorized sessions
- Integration across mobile devices and cloud networks
Identity and access management, also known as access control, are critical components of nearly all regulatory and cybersecurity frameworks. No security system is complete without broad controls and user monitoring.
Turning vCISO Insights Into Loss Prevention
The most significant benefit of a powerful vCISO is not their ability to operate your cybersecurity system; most non-IT personnel will appreciate comprehensive, proactive loss prevention.
To protect the company from cyberattacks well before they happen, most companies will benefit from a strong, vCISO-backed threat and vulnerability management program, comprising:
- Threat scanning, indexed with a list of commonly known vulnerabilities
- Inventorying and analysis of known existing and potential threats
- Long-term vulnerability and threat lifecycle management
- Integration across all other security architecture
- Root cause analysis and mitigation
While these measures cannot guarantee that no attacks occur (no safeguard can), they ensure you’re prepared for attacks when they happen.
How vCISOs Optimize Cyber Risk Analysis
A vCISO enables your IT team and staff to operate at maximum efficiency without sinking the vast majority of funding into payment for one executive at the top of the totem pole. With a vCISO, the most advanced cybersecurity measures that might otherwise be inaccessible to your organization can become the bedrock of your cyberdefenses.
For example, a vCISO’s internal team can conduct penetration testing, a form of “ethical” hacking that mobilizes your defenses with a strong offense. A contracted “attacker” simulates a hack that your vCISO and IT personnel can study to understand how a real hacker would operate.
A vCISO is uniquely positioned to conduct pen testing themselves, or contract an external pen tester, given their own positionality outside the organization. Given this niche and all the other advantages detailed above, virtual CISO consulting services offer immense value, especially for small- to medium-sized businesses. To get started with your vCISO, contact RSI Security today.